Community engagement does not come easy. It cannot be accomplished with half-hearted public relations techniques based in ‘selling’ an image and hoping to convince people. Communities today are not mindless consumers who are ‘bought’ or ‘sold.’ They are the believers, active participants and influencers who are vital to your success online. To engage with a community today, you must show why you are worthy of the community’s support and prove you understand them and their needs. Below are 5 steps that are essential to building community engagement.

1. Clearly define your mission

The first step towards community engagement is clearly defining your mission. If you do not know your unique purpose, how can you expect others to become believers? Make your mission clear, concise and targeted. A clear mission makes it easier to build a unique image.

2. Identify your community

Once you’ve defined your mission and developed your unique image, you need to discover appropriate niche verticals for communicating your mission. In other words, identify who your community is and what is important to them. Clearly define who and what your community represents before attempting engagement. Who are the leaders/influencers in the community? What important issues are they talking about? Where does your mission fit into the conversation?

3. Give your community a reason to participate

Ask yourself these two questions: Why should people engage with me and my mission? What do I bring to the community that is useful and important to them? For example, innovative news media organizations, like Oakland Local, encourage community engagement by reporting news that is for the community and by the community. The staff at Local are not just journalists. They are journalism educators within the community. Through various workshops, Local’s journalists educate members within Oakland’s community. One specific workshop teaches the community how to tell their own stories using multimedia. Local’s website acts as a platform for the community to tell their stories. Reporting the news is no longer the job of the news organization. It is collaborative storytelling involving everyone within the community.

4. Build trust with your community

It’s simple. If members within the community do not trust you or your mission, all hope at engagement is lost. You cannot expect trust from the community you seek to engage with. You must earn it. You earn trust by being truthful and transparent. Make it easy on yourself, do good and be good to the people in your community. If you make a mistake, shine a lantern on the problem and fix it. If you build trust, they will come.

5. Empower your community

Give your community responsibilities and a sense of empowerment. Everyone likes to feel important and needed. By giving your community responsibilities and empowering them with titles, like Community Moderator, Community Influencer or Community Expert, they will feel invested in the success of you and your mission.

If you have any comments or suggestions, I would like to hear your thoughts!